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IMMIGRATION

Banksy mural in Calais wiped out by house painters

A mural in Calais by the British street artist Banksy, whose works can sell for hundreds of thousands of euros, has been painted over by the owner of the building because he said the house was starting to look shabby and needed an upgrade.

Banksy mural in Calais wiped out by house painters
Banksy's version of The Raft of the Medusa in Calais before it was painted over. AFP.
The stencil was a version of the painting The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault showing a group of desperate survivors on a raft after a wreck.
 
It was given a modern, refugee-themed twist – a nod to the notorious “Jungle” refugee camp in Calais that housed thousands of refugees hoping to get to Britain – with the survivors trying to get the attention of a ferry on the horizon. 
 
It was one of three that the elusive British artist had produced in the port town in 2015 on the theme of migrants.
 
But the owner of the building on which The Raft of the Medusa was stencilled decided that it was more important to have his property upgraded than to preserve the work of art. 
 
“The wall was in a very bad state, and there was graffiti and part of the Banksy work had already been sprayed over,” Georges Lagouge told The Local. “You couldn’t see the ship on the horizon any more.”
 
“I would have been happy to have it (the mural) preserved but I contacted the town hall to ask them if they wanted to look after it and nobody got back to me,” he said.
 
“To sell it I would have either have had to sell the whole building (made up of apartments and a pharmacy) or somehow cut out that section of the wall. It would have been too complicated,” said Lagouge, who lives elsewhere and rents out the building.
 
So the painters were called in last week and, after removing the plexiglass that local authorities had put in place in a vain attempt to keep the mural in good shape, they painted over the work and restored the wall to its original white finish.
 
Pictures on Twitter showed a blank, white wall where Banksy's update on the 1819 masterpiece had previously stood (see below). 
 

Officials at Calais town hall did not immediately respond when asked by The Local if or why the town had failed to preserve an important art work.
 
Its removal now leaves just two of the three murals that Banksy produced in Calais.
 
The best known one is of the late Steve Jobs (see below), the founder of Apple, carrying a black bag on his shoulder and with an Apple computer in his hand. 
 
Steve Jobs by Banksy in Calais. AFP. 
 
The work – painted on a wall under a bridge leading into the now closed “Jungle” – was a reference to that fact that Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant to the United States.
 
But that work has also been disfigured, with someone spraying “London Calling” in huge letters around it and other smaller graffiti placed around it.
 
The most intact Banksy work remaining in Calais is an image on a building on the town’s beach of a young child gazing out to sea through a telescope. On top of the child's telescope is a vulture staring down (see below).
 
A Banksy artwork of a child looking out to see through a telescope. AFP. 
 
Having a Banksy on the wall of your house can add enormous value to your property. In London, luxury developers are doing up properties where street artists such as Banksy have left their mark and using it as a key selling point that lets them hike prices.
 
Georges Lagouge, who had his own personal Banksy removed, says he has no regrets about the sinking of the Raft of the Medusa.
 
“If they (local authorities) had wanted to look after it I would have been delighted. But they didn’t. I have no regrets, but if Banksy wants to come back and do another one on my wall, he’s more than welcome,” he told The Local.
 
by Rory Mulholland 
For members

CULTURE

Skulls, beer and a ‘cathedral’: Discover the secrets of underground Paris

You've certainly heard of the Metro, maybe the catacombs and perhaps even the Phantom of the Opera's underground lake - but there are some things lurking beneath Paris that might surprise you.

Skulls, beer and a 'cathedral': Discover the secrets of underground Paris

One of Europe’s most densely populated cities, Paris has over two million people living within its boundaries. As those inhabitants walk along the Champs-Elysées or Rue de Rivoli, they might be entirely unaware of the extensive underground world that exists below their feet. 

These are some of the hidden gems beneath the famous monuments in the City of Light:

Skulls, beer and police

The final resting place for over six million Parisians – the catacombs are the most well-known part of underground Paris, but did you know that the 1,700 metres of catacombs that are open to the public represent less than one percent of the whole of the catacombs in Paris? In fact, the underground network is thought to be around 300 km in size.

The catacombs are also known as the Ossuaire Municipal, and they are located at the site of former limestone quarries. The Ossuaire as we know it was created during the 18th century, because the city’s cemeteries could not withstand its population growth and public health concerns began to be raised. Gradually the remains of millions of Parisians were moved underground.

The bones of Parisians only comprise a small section of Paris’ ‘carrières‘ (or quarries), which can be seen in the above map.

These subterranean passages have fascinated cataphiles for many years – with stories of secret parties, illicit tunnel exploration and much more. During the Covid lockdowns, the catacombs infamously served as a location for clandestine parties. At one point, over 35 people were ticketed for participating in underground raves

The network even has its own police service, the Intervention and Protection Group, known colloquially as the cataflics, who are a specialised police brigade in charge of monitoring the old quarries in Paris.

Though these quarries might be a location to secretly throw back a few pints, they are also connected to beer for another reason, as they are the ideal environment to both store and make beer – with consistently cool temperatures and nearby access to underground water sources.

In 1880, the Dumesnil brewery, located in the 14th arrondissement, invested in the quarries underneath its premises, using them to store the thousands of barrels of beer that it produced each year. Over the years, the brewery simply turned its basement into a real underground factory. 

If you really want to visit the ancient underground quarries specifically, you don’t have to just go to the catacombs. You can also do so by visiting the “Carrières des Capucins.” Found just below the Cochin hospital, located in the 14th arrondissement, access to these tunnels is allowed to the public (with reservation) in small groups.

As for entering the rest of the old quarry system, that has been illegal to enter the old quarries since 1955, which has not stopped several curious visitors and explorers from trying to discover what secrets might be underground. 

Sewer Museum

Recently renovated, this museum might not be at the top of a tourist’s list in the same way the Louvre or Musée d’Orsay might, but the museum of sewers actually has a lot of fascinating history to share. It took almost a century to build Paris’ sewage system, and it is largely to thank for the city’s growth, protecting the public health of inhabitants by helping prevent disease outbreaks. 

Visiting the sewers is not a new activity either – according to the museum’s website, “as early as 1867, the year of the World’s Fair, visits were met with immense public success, the reason being that this underground space had always been hidden from the curious eyes of all those who dwell on the surface of Paris.”

Ghost stations

A total of 16 Metro stations go unused underground in Paris – some were built and never put into use, others were decommissioned after World War II.

The most famous is Porte des Lilas – a working Metro station that has an unused ‘ghost’ section which these days is used for filming scenes in movies and TV.

If you’ve ever watched a scene set in the Metro, chances are it was filmed at Porte des Lilas, which has a section of track that Metro cars can move along if needed for action sequences. 

The extra section was taken out of commission in 1939 due to under-use, and in the 1950s it served as a place to test new metro cars.

Beware if you find yourself in Haxo station – it does not have its own entrance or exit and is only accessible by following the Metro tunnels. It is one of the six that never opened, similar to Porte Molitor, Orly-Sud, La Défense-Michelet, or Élysée-La Défense.

Other stations were closed for being too close to other stations, such as the Saint-Martin station, which was closed after World War II as it was too close to Strasbourg-Saint Denis. 

These phantom stations are usually off-limits to the public, but sometimes access is allowed for special guided tours or events.

Reminders of World War II 

Paris’ underground played an important role during the Second World War.

First, there is the French resistance command bunker, which is now part of the Musée de la Libération at Place Denfert Rochereau.

It was from here that Resistance leaders co-ordinated the battle for the liberation of Paris in 1944.

There is also the anti-bombardment bunker near Gare de l’Est. Normally this is closed during the year, but it is opened on Heritage Day in September. (Journées de patrimoine). 

The bunker was originally commissioned in 1939 to keep trains running, even in the event of a gas attack, and it was completed by the Germans in November 1941. It is located between Metro tracks 3 and 4. The bunker itself – which can fit up to 50 people – has basically been frozen in time, featuring a control room and telephone. 

Another river

You’ve heard of the Seine, but what about the underground river that flows through the city of Paris? Prior to the 20th century, the Bièvre river flowed through the city as well, running through Paris’ 13th and 5th arrondisements. Once upon a time, tanners and dyers set up shop next to the Bievre, shown in the image below. 

The river eventually became quite polluted and concerns arose that it might be a health hazard, so in 1875, as part of his transformation of the city, Georges-Eugène Haussmann decided that the Bièvre had to go. It was mostly covered up, and now what remains of the river flows beneath the city, with some parts of it joining Paris’ sewage system.

The Phantom’s lake

If you are a fan of Phantom of the Opera, you would know that the Phantom’s lair is below the Palais Garnier (the Opera house), and that Christine and the Phantom must cross a subterranean lake to get there.

This body of water is not a figment the imagination of Gaston Leroux – though not an actual lake, a large water tank can be found below the grounds. It is even used to train firefighters to swim in the dark.

The Phantom’s not real, though (probably).

‘Cathedral’

The Montsouris reservoir is one of Paris’ primary drinking water sources, along with L’Haÿ-les-Roses, Saint-Cloud, Ménilmontant and Les Lilas.

But while it’s undoubtedly very useful, it’s most famous for its looks.

The structure resembles a kind of underground water cathedral and is home to over 1,800 pillars, which support its numerous vaults and arches. It’s closed to the public, but its rare beauty means that it’s often photographed by urban explorers.

Mushroom farms

And last but not least – the ‘mushroom houses.’ Les champignons de Paris have been grown below the capital’s soil for centuries.

READ MORE: Inside Paris’ underground mushroom farms

“Paris mushrooms” have been grown since the 17th century. The rosé des près (meadow pink) mushrooms were a favourite of Louis XIV and were originally grown overground – their colour comes from the limestone that Paris is build on.

By the 19th century they went underground, which provided more space and allowed the fungi to be cultivated year-round, but eventually the construction of the Paris Metro pushed many growers out of the capital.

Today, there are just five traditional producers in operation – Shoua-moua Vang runs the largest underground mushroom cave in the Paris region, spread across one and a half hectares of tunnels in a hill overlooking the Seine river. 

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